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ASA publishes final report on Intermediary and Platform Principles Pilot

Published on 13 December 2023

How have the main digital platforms responded to the ASA’s year long Intermediary and Platform Principles Pilot initiative (the IPP)?

The question

How have the main digital platforms responded to the ASA’s year long Intermediary and Platform Principles Pilot initiative (the IPP)?

The key takeaway

Ten of the largest companies in digital advertising, including Google, Meta and TikTok, were found to support the ASA in its self-regulation of advertising, including by: (1) raising awareness of rules for online advertising; and (2) removing ads that were persistently non-compliant. The pilot has enhanced the existing self-regulatory system for responsible online advertising. 

The background

The IPP was devised as a global first to explore transparency and accountability in the UK’s online advertising system. It ran for one year from 1 June 2022 to 1 June 2023 and required participating platforms to follow six key Principles:

  • to bring the requirement for CAP Code compliance to advertisers’ attention
  • to ensure policies require ads aimed at a UK audience to comply with the CAP Code
  • to assist the ASA in promoting awareness of the ASA system to the public and advertisers
  • to make advertisers aware of the tools that support requirements to minimise young people’s exposure to ads with age-targeting restrictions
  • to act swiftly to remove non-compliant ads where the advertiser fails to act
  • to respond in a timely way to reasonable requests for information from the ASA to assist in investigation of suspected breaches of the CAP Code.

At the end of the pilot, all ten participating companies provided comprehensive submissions supported by evidence which allowed the ASA to assess the extent to which they had implemented the Principles. 

The development

The independent findings of the report demonstrate that, unequivocally, the participating companies implemented the Principles. In doing so, they raised awareness of advertising rules and took the relevant action where non-compliant ads were identified online. The ASA considers that the IPP has established the ability of the Principles to enhance the existing system of self-regulation whereby relevant companies in the online advertising supply chain support the ASA in securing responsible and safe online advertising. 

Why is this important?

Online advertising is recognised as a cornerstone of innovation, customer engagement and competitive prices. Alongside a pro-tech approach to governing digital technologies, the Government is making ongoing considerations as to whether regulators are sufficiently equipped to address harms that can arise from online advertising, particularly high risk areas (eg alcohol and gambling) or illegal online advertising. 

A number of digital regulation reforms have been developed as part of the Plan for Digital Regulation, including the Online Safety Act, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Protection Bill, and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. Legislative reform has been proposed in the Online Advertising Programme following concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability across key areas of the online advertising supply chain. The Government’s July response to the Online Advertising Programme consultation concluded that a tailored and proportionate approach to regulating online advertising, by ensuring regulators have the necessary tools to oversee and ensure compliance, is most appropriate. Particular recognition was paid to the IPP and the substantial work of the ASA.

Whilst the Government’s response does not suggest the IPP eradicates the need for further regulation in online advertising, it does highlight the significant positive progress made by the pilot for the advertising industry. It described the results of the pilot as a “helpful step forward” for some of the largest firms to explore how better outcomes can be achieved in online advertising. 

Any practical tips?

The report sets out both the good practices observed and identifies areas where the ASA considers there is potential for ongoing consideration which online advertisers should be aware of.

Examples of good practice by online advertisers such as Google, Meta and TikTok include:

  • the use of prominent and direct hyperlinks to the CAP Code
  • additional methods of raising awareness of the CAP Code and relevant guidance
  • the swift removal of all notified non-compliant ads
  • the use of CAP Code training for advertisers.

Winter 2023